Dark Shadows: Review: Big Finish Audio 36: The Lucifer Gambit

36_thelucifergambit_cover_largeStarring Stephanie Ellyne, Simon Lee Phillips and Sheila Steafel, with Nancy Barrett, Lisa Richards, Jonathon Marx, Barra Collins and Antonio Rastelli

Written by Eric Wallace, Directed by David Darlington and Darren Gross

In which Amy Jennings (Ellyne), after taking a phone call meant for Professor Stokes, travels to Saratoga Springs, New York to assist widower Dominic Randall, whose recently deceased wife Isobel – known as “The Witch of Wall Street” – is not, in fact, as really most sincerely dead as she ought to be…

After her surprise cameo in Beneath the Veil and the revelations in The Enemy Within of what happened to her after her brother Chris died, it’s hardly surprising that Amy Jennings would be the focus of a Big Finish Dark Shadows audio. What is somewhat surprising is that Amy isn’t being voiced by her original actress (Denise Nickerson, most famous as Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), but rather by newcomer Stephanie Ellyne, whose voice does possess a similar glass-cutting timbre to Nicholson’s famed tones.

One of the main problems with this story is that since it takes place in 1973, Amy would still be too young to do half the things she does and apparently has done (such as travelling by herself from New York City to Cairo, Egypt) and ultimately applying for college – although her being a prodigy, and with the backing of someone like Professor Stokes, could explain this away. Also, the script can’t seem to make up its mind as to whether Amy is a competent investigator of the supernatural, or if her success to date has largely depended on a magical talisman that Professor Stokes gave her. Yes, this case is essentially her trial by fire, as she finds herself out of her depth in a situation she impetuously placed herself in, but still…!

As for the main guest stars, they do just fine with the material they’ve been presented with. Sheila Steafel, in particular, successfully walks that fine line between over-the-top camp and playing her part with utter conviction that Dark Shadows demands of its best cast. While the script attempts to show glimpses of sympathetic qualities in both Dominic and Isobel Randall, they ultimately come across as loathsome grotesques who deserve each other and their toxic, dysfunctional mess of a marriage. It’s as if Amy Jennings has stumbled into the home of Dark Shadows’ equivalent of George and Martha from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and the listener is forced to wait for the curtain to full – an event which can’t happen soon enough in this reviewer’s opinion.

Verdict: Despite strong performances, this rare misstep for Big Finish is easily the weakest Dark Shadows entry in quite some time… 4/10

John S. Hall

Click here to order The Lucifer Gambit from Big Finish

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